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Chest annihilation: Mountain Dog style

Brust Vernichtung: Mountain Dog Stil

Chest training was always a challenge for me. This wasn't because my genetics were modest (as was the case with my back) or because of the pain associated with training (as was the case with leg training). For me, the hardest part of chest training was simply staying healthy: I had suffered so many strains over the years that were just a touch away from actual muscle fiber tears, and so many rotator cuff issues that required hours of treatment, that I was ultimately forced to examine my training style and creatively adapt it in order to continue to grow. The other alternative would have been to just keep plowing forward like an idiot and eventually sustain a serious injury.

Interestingly, exercising with some "fear" eventually led me to what worked best for me in terms of muscle growth - with the added bonus that I no longer had to suffer from pulled muscles or an irritated rotator cuff. It's been said before, but it really can't be said enough: the pursuit of building muscle is a marathon, not a sprint.

Why did I suffer from strain after strain? Because I was a dedicated student of the bodybuilding magazines and followed the classic training programs consisting of barbell bench presses followed by incline bench presses and then flying movements.

It starts with how you start

Whenever I started my training sessions with barbell bench presses, it was estimated that 25% of the time I would pull at least a minor pectoral muscle strain when using even the slightest amount of heavy weights. It was always the same: I'd make good progress and then, after a few weeks of feeling good - Bam, and I'd pulled something again.

Then I switched to doing incline bench presses first and unfortunately experienced the same thing. It was really frustrating as I wasn't doing extremely heavy sets of two or three reps, but sets of 6 to 8 reps. And again, this meant more strains, further aggravation and more treatments. When my physiotherapist's BMW salesman sent me a Christmas card, I knew something was going wrong.

People around me were also pulling and tearing pectoral muscles more frequently. A former Mr. Ohio and a couple of world champion powerlifter friends of mine had all suffered major pec tears that required surgery and this made me question my methods. Was I heading in the same direction? I was stubborn and always thought about how difficult it would be to build a truly gigantic chest if I couldn't bench press or incline bench press as my first exercises. After all, that was the way to do it, wasn't it?

It was hard for me to break free from this paradigm. I had heard many bodybuilders say that you get the best gains by doing a heavy barbell multi-joint exercise as your first exercise. I had also read several studies that supported this view. I had never questioned these studies and still don't, but I also know that there is always more than one way to achieve your goals if you are creative enough.

So how did my training evolve into something that allowed me to make extraordinary gains without injury?

Exercise sequence

In my experience, the exercises that regularly led to strains were barbell bench presses and barbell incline bench presses. The fact is, I still love doing these exercises and I certainly wanted to keep them in my training program - but I needed to figure out how to do them safely. After much experimentation, these were the conclusions I came to:

Bench press as the third or even fourth exercise of the training session:

You may not be able to set any new personal bests, but try to use what you do at this point as a new reference. For example, let's say you can do 6 reps of the bench press at 150 kilos if you do the bench press as your first exercise, but you can only do 6 reps at 130 kilos if you use the bench press as your third or fourth exercise. Make the 130 kilos your new reference and try to exceed this weight - but now with the certainty that you are sufficiently warmed up and will not injure your chest muscles in this attempt.

All those junkies addicted to personal bests will be fascinated to see how much of their "lost" strength returns after they get used to this new sequence. You may not get back to the 6 reps at 150 kilos right away, but 140 to 145 kilos will probably be doable within a few weeks of training.

Incline bench press as second or third exercise

You should be on the safe side if you perform this exercise as the second or third exercise of your chest workout if you use the technique I will describe later in this article.

Push angle

Slight angles work better than excessive angles. Dorian Yates believes in a slight angle on incline bench presses and bench presses on the reverse incline bench and he was certainly on to something. For me, a slight incline bench angle seems to work the entire chest without that burning sensation in the shoulders that I sometimes experience on incline bench presses with a greater incline of the pad.

Honestly, standard incline bench presses are one of my favorite shoulder width exercises. I've noticed that if I don't use this exercise for a while, my shoulders take on a narrower appearance and my upper chest looks visibly flatter.

It's as if my genetic predisposition for "droopy shoulders" comes into play here. I therefore consider regular incline bench presses to be an excellent exercise for building my shoulders while also training my upper chest (I train the chest along with the shoulders, so this combination works well as a complete training day).

As for bench presses on the reverse incline bench, this exercise completely destroys my rotator cuff. This exercise is probably the most uncomfortable exercise I've ever done. I believe this was also due to the benches I was using - the angles were just too extreme.

The solution is to find a bench where you can adjust the pad to a slight incline. I like to use a sit-up bench with just a slight incline for this. This is the perfect angle for natural contractions. You can of course also use this setup for dumbbell exercises.

Try the following if you have trouble feeling your chest: Use a very small angle on the multi press for bench presses on the reverse incline bench. Grip the bar with a wide grip and start doing repetitions where you lower the bar to your chest and then push it up to only 75% of the maximum range of motion before lowering the bar again - we want continuous tension on the pecs at this point. Do a few sets and your chest will literally be on fire.

Even with incline bench presses, slight angles are better than more extreme ones. They seem to feel more "natural" and allow me to use more of my pecs and less of my shoulder muscles. I think this subtle difference compared to the angles used in regular incline bench presses has had the biggest impact on my chest development and the chest development of the majority of the guys I've worked with.

And what about training the different muscle heads of the pecs? For example, can you really isolate the area that attaches to the collarbone and the area that attaches to the sternum? That's a good question. There are a lot of really smart people who say that this is not possible and that flat bench presses, for example, train your entire chest. Their logic is sound, but here's what matters: sometimes we overcomplicate things, but sometimes we oversimplify.

I know that when I do bench presses on the reverse incline bench on the multi press, flying movements on the flat bench, and barbell bench presses, I feel more soreness in my lower and outer pecs the next day than I do in my upper pecs. If I do tons of flying movements on the machine and dumbbell incline bench presses, I feel a lot of muscle soreness in my upper chest the next day. And if I do a lot of flying movements on the machine with a good stretch and a good contraction, then the next day I feel the muscle fibers in the sternum area very clearly.

So in this simplistic way, I believe that different angles stress different areas of the muscle to a greater extent. I know this isn't really groundbreaking, but many of my colleagues would disagree with me.

Range of motion

By making adjustments to your range of motion, you can accomplish several things. These adjustments can keep you healthy and they can lead to greater growth. But how can you know when you should move the weight all the way up, when you should achieve a strong stretch, or when the weight should touch your chest? Let's look at a few exercises that you should perform with a limited range of motion and others that you should perform with a full range of motion.

Barbell incline bench press

Don't touch your chest. Finish the downward movement 5 to 7 centimeters above your chest and then push the weight back up. Do not overstretch your arms at the highest point of the movement so that you maintain continuous tension on your pecs throughout the range of motion used and you will reap the benefits.

This range of motion has saved my rotator cuff from regular strains, my pectoral attachments from potential muscle tears and allowed me to feel my chest while working out. As mentioned above, I believe this is also one of the best exercises for shoulder width, making this exercise a valuable tool in your toolbox.

Dumbbell Twist and Press (

In the twist and press, you start at the lowest point of the movement with a regular grip. As you move upwards, twist your hands inwards until you reach an underhand grip at the highest point and the dumbbells form a line.

Regardless of the angle used, this exercise should always be performed with a full stretch at the lowest point of the movement, which is the main advantage of using dumbbells over a barbell. There are also variations in the execution of this exercise that can help you achieve a more intense contraction.

Bench press on the chest machine

You can get really creative with these exercises and use a variety of ranges of motion. On the Hammer Strength press, I like to set the seat low enough to push the weight up in more of an arc. The key is to move the weight all the way down, pause there and then explosively push the weight up.

You can also use partial ranges of motion in the lower and upper ranges in a safe way with good results. A good way to incorporate this into your training program is to train through the full range of motion until muscle failure is reached and then perform a few partial repetitions in the style of Tom Platz.

Flying movements

I occasionally start my chest workout with flying movements on the machine. I use a good stretch and try to achieve a full contraction. If you push yourself hard, you will achieve an intense burn in the sternum area that is difficult to achieve with other exercises. You should be careful though - only go back until your arms are to the side of you or slightly behind your body. I have seen many strains due to an exaggerated range of motion. For safety reasons, I would not recommend maximum stretching during this exercise.

Pressing and stretching

One of my friends, John Quint, a myofascial therapist, taught me this. He's a massive guy with one of the most massive chest developments I've ever seen. In between sets, take a stretchy band or something similar and perform presses and stretches as seen at the end of this video: (

When I first started doing this stretch, it was scary how bad my mobility was in my shoulders, but it got better every week. The cool thing about this is that your pump will reach insane levels if you do this exercise between sets. I prefer to do it later in the workout when my pecs are already pumped with blood and stretch them as much as possible.

Work with higher repetitions on the multi press

This is something I had to try on several people before I could believe it. You can build muscle mass and thickness with higher reps on the multi press. I used sets like this when preparing for a competition and I noticed that I and all my training partners who trained like this became more muscular - even while dieting. I'm talking about sets of 15 to 25 repetitions. This is one of those things that every book will tell you won't work, but I'm convinced it pays off.

Training volume

In terms of volume, my 12 week chest program is slightly behind what you would use for legs or back as the pecs are not as big.

Phase 1 - Week 1-3

Use a medium volume approach. The total number of sets ranges from 10 to 12 sets. A medium volume approach will be sufficient to start with as the intensity and variety of training angles will be enough to shock your muscles.

Phase 2 - Week 4-9

Use a high volume approach. Now we start to increase the volume each week. Your body will adapt to the intensity you challenged it with in the beginning and we will continue to push it to regain its balance through more total volume and total tonnage moved over the next 6 weeks. The number of sets will range from 13 to 16, with more high-intensity sets added each week. You will need to work hard during the six weeks of this phase.

Phase 3 - Week 10-12

Use a low to medium volume approach with almost exclusively high-intensity sets (before which you perform an adequate warm-up). The number of sets will range from 8 to 10. The total volume will be lower, but the sets you will perform will be the hardest sets of your life.

Unloading phase - week 13-14

As with any hard program, there is an unloading phase that will benefit you in the long run and during which there will be a rebound from the cumulative neuronal fatigue that accompanies high-intensity training. In this respect, exercisers are very different from each other. I've seen exercisers who needed a rebound after just 6 weeks, while others can train at maximum intensity for over 30 weeks and still make steady progress.

How do you know when you should take these 2 weeks? You might have an increased heart rate at rest or you might notice that you can't release as much power during your heavy multi-joint exercises. Maybe you can't sleep or maybe you're suddenly in a bad mood all the time. At the end of the day, you either need to work with someone who knows your capacity or you need to use self-observation to know when you need a lower intensity phase.

Intensity techniques for the chest muscles


With rest/pause, you pause for a few seconds and then perform another repetition, after which you pause again, and so on. Rest/pause works well with press exercises on machines like the Hammer Strength machine. I also love doing regular flat bench presses this way. You don't have to worry about injury from pausing and then explosively lifting the weight if you do these exercises later in your workout. Dumbbell exercises can also be performed this way, but I think machines (Hammer Strength, Multipress, Cybex, etc.) along with the barbell exercises are best for this technique.

Continuous tension

In almost all chest exercises where you use a barbell, you should focus on lowering the weight at a controlled pace and then only moving it ¾ of the way up before lowering it again without pausing. I mainly use this technique for bench press variations with barbells and on the multi press.

Partial repetitions

I occasionally perform partial repetitions from the stretched position in machine exercises, but I'm still not really comfortable with partial repetitions in standard barbell exercises. I also like to do partial repetitions from the contracted position on machines. For example, I do a normal set of 10 reps on the Hammer Strength chest machine and then another 6 partial reps at the top end of the range of motion.

You could also do 10 full reps followed by 10 partial reps across the bottom of the range of motion for increased blood flow. When I perform partial repetitions across the lower part of the range of motion, I usually aim for a repetition range of 20 to 30 repetitions. It's impossible to do this if you're doing partial reps in the upper part of the range of motion. Here you are more likely to be in the 4 to 8 repetition range.

Descending sets

I love descending sets on machines like the multi press, Hammer Strength and Cybex, but I'm not a fan of descending sets with barbells or dumbbells as your arms give up too quickly, rendering this technique useless. You're after deep stimulation of the pecs, not stimulation of the triceps.

3 second negative repetitions

Just like with the legs, I like to perform heavy multi-joint exercises like barbell flat bench presses or barbell incline bench presses with 3-second negative reps. I don't like this with machines. Intuitively, the triceps seem to do too much of the work for me.

Let's put it all together

Now that you know the details of my approach to chest training, I'd like to take a look at two example workouts:

Sample workout for Phase 1



  1. Flat bench dumbbell press with rotation



It's all about maximum contraction. Lie flat on a flat bench (or on a slightly inclined incline bench) with 2 dumbbells. Lower the dumbbells so that you achieve a good stretch in your chest at the lowest point of the movement. As you then move the weight upwards, turn your hands inwards and consciously contract your chest muscles to the maximum at the highest point of the movement. You won't be able to use as much weight as with a regular dumbbell bench press, but you will achieve a very good contraction. Once you have found the right weight, perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

  1. Barbell incline bench press

2 warm-up sets
3 - 5


Do two warm-up sets of 8 repetitions and then increase the weight in a pyramid with sets of 8 repetitions - e.g. 100, 110, 120, 130. Continue until you can no longer do 8 repetitions. You should reach this point after 4 sets. Only lower the weight to 5 centimeters above your chest and only move it 75% of the way up.

  1. Press and stretch on the machine


10 + 10

Perform 10 repetitions on a chest machine and perform the stretch described above after each set. Perform a stretch for each repetition of presses.

Example training session phase 2



  1. Dumbbell incline bench press



Nothing special here, just a good pyramid. Make sure you achieve a good stretch at the lowest point and push the weight all the way up and consciously tighten the chest muscles at the highest point of the movement. Increase the weight from set to set until you reach a weight where you reach muscle failure after 8 repetitions. Don't use a weight that is so heavy that you can no longer manage to tense your chest muscles to the maximum at the highest point. If you can do 8 repetitions with 40 kilos, your work sets could look like this: 32.5 x 8, then 35 x 8, then 37.5 x 8, then 40 x 8. Not all sets are performed until muscle failure, but only the last one.

  1. Bench press on the reverse incline bench on the multi press


8 -10

Use constant tension: go all the way down until the bar touches your chest, but only push the weight 75% of the way up. Use a medium weight for 25 repetitions and get your chest muscles burning. Then perform another set with slightly more weight and 20 repetitions. Then increase the weight again and perform a solid set of 12 reps with perfect form. And now for the mastery set. Start with a weight you think you can do 8 to 10 reps with and go to muscle failure. Do not perform a single repetition with poor form. If your form starts to deteriorate, reduce the weight significantly and perform as many repetitions with perfect form as possible. For the final descending set, use a significantly wider grip and again perform as many reps with perfect form as possible. After that, your chest should be on fire.

  1. Flat bench press


4 Rest/pause

Rest/pause time. Perform 4 rest/pause sets of 6 repetitions. Lower the weight in a controlled manner, pause on the chest for 2 seconds and move the weight up explosively. Use perfect form, but perform the upward movement explosively.

  1. Pec Minor Dips (


Muscle failure

This is another exercise I love for the chest. It's a modified version of classic dips performed for the pectoralis minor. Keep your arms straight and lower your body to a full stretch. Then push yourself up using your chest muscles. Remember to keep your arms straight throughout the exercise. Use as much additional weight as possible.

Final thoughts

I hope you appreciate the direction my chest workout is taking and why. Sometimes we have to find new ways to achieve our goals when we can't get anywhere the traditional way. For this reason, I was forced to deviate from the exercise sequences described in all the popular muscle magazines. Fortunately, my fear of injury led me down a path that I believe has given me the best results for my chest development.

I would still say that this program remains very basic in nature. I don't use inverse cable crossover pulls on a Bosu Ball or anything along those lines. Instead, the basic and proven chest exercises are performed in what I consider to be the safest and most productive way. Try it out for yourself.

by John Meadows


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